Like big butts? Just a 45-minute boat ride from Cartagena is an idyllic island paradise that each weekend and holiday turns into the city's best party scene.
Everything in Colombia is difficult and most things don't turn out how you expect. While visiting Cartagena with the girlfriend's family over New Year's we chartered a boat for some sight seeing and fishing. But, instead of taking us out for marlin, the captain parked us in the middle of a floating party where we ate barbecued lobster, drank pina coladas from coconuts and watched the locals dance. Not a bad way to spend New Year's Day, at least for us kids.
Why Go? Cartagena is a traditional New Year's destination for Colombians and their families. So, the city is full of tourists, but most of those tourists are from the same country. It's a great city, but those looking for a crazy party will have a hard time finding one.
Cholon is gorgeous little desert island covered in palm trees and mangroves and, at least on New Year's Day, was filled with dozens of boats and hundreds of good looking young men and women wearing little to nothing. The boats all contribute to a cacophony of bad dance music and bubblegum pop while a collection of shacks on the beach barbecue lobsters and make mixed drinks.
We only saw one other boat with North Americans on it, I get the impression this is off the beaten path, at least for tourists from that part of the world. Everyone else was a local, or at least Colombian.
American equivalents would be Lake Havasu or any Spring Break beach scene, just here with an exponentially greater number of butt implants.
What You'll Need To Bring? Wear your bathing suit and carry your own towel and sunscreen. Make sure you bring plenty of cash to pay for food and drinks. A barbecued seafood, plantain and rice lunch should cost about 85,000 Pesos, but they tried to charge us twice that. Negotiations for Pina Coladas also started at twice the 10,000 Pesos ($4) we ended up paying. And everyone in Colombia expects a tip.
It'd be a good idea to pack a cooler with your own beers and water bottles too, at least for the ride there and back.
How Do You Get There? You'll need to charter a boat in Cartagena. The cheapest way to do that is to hop on an 18-person party boat bound for the island; those charge in the neighborhood of $185/person for the day and include everything you'll need.
We chartered our own boat from Colombia Rents who were awful to deal with. Bad communication (despite our group's fluent Spanish), a worse attitude and, to top it all off, the boat arrived late. We weren't the only ones renting from them on New Year's Day, but no one there responded to emails or phone calls about the late boat until they wanted payment, then they sent 8 emails in half an hour and even showed up at our house uninvited. And they refused to accept a credit card for what was a very significant transaction. A shitty company you should avoid.
What Should You Do While You're There? Party! Colombians are a friendly people; make some new friends, enjoy the people watching and enjoy the food and drinks. The barbecued lobster was the best I've ever eaten, and I don't typically enjoy consuming the sea roaches; the plantains were the best we had all week.
Accept the invitation to have a table brought out into the water for you to eat and hang out at. Standing waist deep in crystal clear water while drinking out of a coconut and dining on lobster is a pretty neat experience, plus you can pee where you stand.
What We'd Do Differently: I wish we'd known we were actually headed to Cholon! Expecting fishing and ending up at a party was a little surprising and we could probably have better managed expectations with that knowledge. Plan on spending the day there, departing Cartagena at 10 and leaving in the late afternoon and you'll have a great day.
Special thanks to Don O'Born.
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Top photo: Brandon Blinkwilder